The Red Lake / Forestdale Road Trail packs a lot of amazingness into a package that can be made as small or as distant as you would like to make it!
Following Forestdale Road, a Forest Service road that remains unmaintained throughout the snowy season, the trail begins near the eastern edge of the alpine Red Lake that sits in the shadow of Carson Pass and the Kirkwood Ski Resort and skirts meadows, aspen groves, mountainous peaks, stunning vistas of the Sierra, and dense pine forest as it heads deep into the Mokelumne Wilderness.
Initially the road marks the border between the Mokelumne Wilderness, which contains mountainous terrain from the road up to Elephants Back Peak to the west - popular terrain for backcountry skiers - and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Land to the east. Forestdale Road is closed to snowmobile traffic, but snowmobiles are permitted in this area when the Hope Valley Sno-Park slightly down the hill has insufficient snow.
Skiers and snowshoers really don't need to travel too far, as only a half mile in the trail opens up to a meadow ecosystem and a mix of cedar and conifer trees, some with wide trunks and contorted limbs that have grown to withstand the high mountainous conditions here.
These mountainous conditions mean that weather can be both unpredictable and inconsistent. The benefit is that snow remains on the ground much later into the spring than in many other places, and it doesn't take far to ski to leave all traces of the already-sparse mountainous civilization behind and feel that you are isolated in this high mountain pass. This was the area that Snowshoe Thompson and John C. Fremont crossed in their early explorations of the region.
Eventually an abundance of snow and a lack of trail markers make it very likely you'll lose the trail, but the rolling backcountry with sloped terrain, meandering bluffs, and forested groves make this ideal to create your own path. Aspen groves line what would be a flowing creek in a less-snowy season, and there are no signs of development or human construction as far as you can see.
At any point you can turn around and retrace your path back to the trail and the trailhead.
There are no amenities of any kind at the trail. It is free to park here; a sno-park pass is required for Carson Pass area trails and parking.
This is trail is overseen by the Hope Valley Outdoors Ski and Snowshoe Center, and though the trail is not groomed, you can inquire at Hope Valley Outdoors regarding gear rental and trail conditions.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.